UX expert Gareth Dunlop tells us a story about Dave, a sales director who realises the importance of knowing your customers.
Dave was born in 1950 and kicked off his career as a sales junior, fresh out of college, in an ambitious retail firm in 1971. Dave thrived in his role; he relished dealing with his customers and, what’s more, he was good with them. He got people; people loved him and, for the next few years, he honed his sales technique as he grew into the top sales performer in his team.
He realised that the more he knew about the products he was selling, the more people trusted him, the better rapport he had with people and the more he sold. It was the ultimate win-win-win. He was happy as he hit his targets. His bosses were happy as their revenue increased. And his customers were happy as they bought products they liked, at a price they could afford, from a person they liked.
So, it was no surprise in 1975 when Dave got promoted to sales manager. Some of his peers were a little jealous as they wanted the role, but deep down they knew that Dave was the man for the job. He had been stuffing his targets for nearly half a decade, and by now had supplemented his natural gift for selling by doing a master’s and building his education.
As a result of this promotion, Dave met his former customers less often. He knew that Alice always called by in June to buy something for her husband, and John would phone in a panic the day before Christmas Eve for presents for the family, and that Mr Jones needed a call to prompt him about his anniversary – and he would remind his sales team that these things were important.
What’s more, he would bump into his customers all the time. He would see them on the shop floor when he called down. They went to the same golf club as him, and his kids went to the same school and soccer club as their kids. If he went for a walk with the family, inevitably he would bump into a customer he used to deal with.
‘How are things John?’, he would always ask, ‘I hope that Janet on the sales desk is still looking after you OK?’, making sure that his team was still taking care of his customers. Usually they were, but if he got a sniff that they weren’t being treated as well as they used to, Monday morning was not a happy one for Janet.
Dave’s team thrived and, as the early 1980s dawned, he inevitably got the sales director role. He was on the shop floor almost never, but many of his former customers were now at the golf club, or in the Rotary, or business networking clubs, and he found this a really useful way of keeping in touch with them. He cherished checking in on them and was always keen to make sure they were being treated well.
The 1980s gave way to the 1990s and Dave’s son turned out to be a chip off the old block. Confident, happy and good with people, he naturally followed his father into the world of sales. Dave Jr joined an e-commerce company to help them sell more things to more people.
Dave Jr never met his customers. They didn’t live in his town and he didn’t know their personal stories. He didn’t naturally pick up their buying motivations by chatting with them because he didn’t physically meet them. They weren’t in his rugby club, he didn’t bump into them in the street and they didn’t go to his business networking events.
But Dave Jr inherited his dad’s nose for understanding people. He quickly realised that because his customers were physically removed from him, he had to work twice as hard as his father to get to know them. Subsequently, he invested heavily in them, observing their behaviours, understanding their needs and improving their experience.
Dave Jr and his colleagues immerse themselves in surveys, behavioural analysis, split testing, usability tests, experimentation, empathy mapping, click tests and perception tests to try to understand the customers they serve as intimately as Dave did a generation previously.
In the pre-digital world, the default position for all of us dealing with customers is that we would meet them most days and, even as careers progressed and people moved away from the front line, we still had lots of chances to check in with our customers.
In the digitally transforming world we live in, the default position is that we don’t meet them and so we are removed from all of the human cues that let us know how well we are treating them. In this new world, it is doubly important that we commit ourselves to knowing our customers intimately, and the commercial performance of organisations such as Google, Amazon and eBay that do would suggest that they will enjoy both victory and the spoils.
Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include UX strategy, usability testing and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Three, Energia, PSNI, Permanent TSB and Tesco Mobile.